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"I'm Not Afraid!"

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Ryan Jacob Koch died of methamphetamine toxicity on April 07, 2018.

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Ryan was always an outgoing, friendly, take care of and love everyone type of kid. I remember when he was only two years old. He went out the front door of our duplex, right up to someone walking down the street and asked “Can I walk with you?” Scared the daylights out of me! 

Ryan went to work at 14 delivering the local shopper. When he was fifteen, he started working at Perkins. He was really tall and when they discovered he was only 15 they fired him and told him to come back the day he turned 16. He did. He also started working part time for a Bank branch in our local grocery store and by the time he graduated from high school he was the assistant manager. He paid for most of his clothes, his own haircuts, his cell phone, his car, his car insurance. He maintained good grades. He wasn’t always an angel but everyone loved him and he loved everybody. We knew the crowd of kids he hung out with partied but we always thought it was “normal” partying.

Ryan decided to go to college at the last minute. It was a hustle to get started on time but he did it and off to Mankato he went. He knew we didn’t have the money to pay his way so he found it by applying for financial aid and working. He maintained his grades, worked hard and had plenty of fun. He called me one day and asked if I wanted to meet him for coffee after work. I said sure and called Mark right away wondering what was going on. He needed to drive 100 miles to have coffee with me??  I told Mark “He’s either pregnant or gay.”  We met at Perkins. He looked me in the eye and said “Mom, I’m gay.” And I knew how important my reaction was to his well-being. I said “OK”. I quizzed him some, asking stupid questions like “are you sure?” and "how do you know?”” I guess subconsciously I already knew. He was so worried about telling me this that he had a bleeding ulcer. I made sure he knew that I loved him no matter what. He went back to school with a huge weight lifted from his shoulders and I went home and cried for 3 days. I didn’t want him to be gay. I didn’t want him to have that struggle of being accepted. I was raised in a church that taught me that being gay was a sin. Fortunately, my boss at the time was like an older brother to me. He asked me “So what’s changed?” Nothing. He’s still my child, I still love him. 

Ryan came home one day and said “Mom, I need a ride to the airport.” So, I asked him where he was going. To San Francisco. He transferred through his job in Minneapolis to Corporate in San Francisco. He didn’t know anyone there, he didn’t have a place to live. But he had a job! That was our Ryan. His motto was “I’m not afraid!” And he wasn’t.

Ryan had an apartment in San Francisco that he shared with his friend Shannon. He had a new car, a great job. He could afford to fly home and surprise me for my birthday. We went and stayed with him. On one visit he took me to a resort at Lake Tahoe. Life was good. He decided he wanted to be a realtor in California – and he did it! He really had it all…

Some of the timeline is blurry. I went to visit him in March of 2011. We didn’t know it but by then he had lost his job and his apartment. He had me meet him in Palm Springs California. We went to San Diego for a week, staying in a motel, sightseeing and he slept. For most of the week he slept. I went home knowing there was something horribly wrong but I had no idea just how wrong things were… By the fall of 2011 Ryan was ready to come home again. He no longer had his driver’s license.

He was living on a park bench in Palm Springs CA. He had the clothes on his back, didn’t even have shoes. He called me and I told him that I couldn’t fly him home without an ID and I couldn’t drive out and get him again. He had done the research himself and knew that he could get a ticket for a bus if I would call and pay for it. I would provide them with a question that if he could answer it they would give him the ticket. Before he got on the bus, he told me that a nice Christian family took him home and let him shower and even bought him a pair of shoes. It took him 3 days to get to South Dakota on that bus but he made it. After spending a couple days with us he headed to the cities and moved in with a friend, Kayla. She saved his life. She let him just exist. He cleaned, did yard work, painted – anything she needed in trade for a bedroom and food. After a few months of this he ended up back in jail. When he called me, he said his court date was 3 weeks away. I could sleep again. When he sobered up he figured out that he could ask to have his court date moved up and he was out again. This time was different. He had court ordered treatment and 5 years of probation.  He cleaned up, got a job and stayed clean while he was on probation.

I always waited for the other shoe to drop. I had my child back. He was rebuilding his life – his credit, all of it. He had enrolled in school again, taking classes for technology. Life was good! He didn’t talk about the bad times.

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He didn’t talk about treatment. The one thing he did do was make sure that I understood that none of this was my fault. And then I got a phone call that changed my world. A stranger asking me to verify that I was the mom. A stranger telling me that my child was in intensive care. A stranger telling me that my child was “non-responsive”. The shock is immediate. The world crashes. You can’t breathe. You can’t think. I did not scream or start wailing. Everything just stopped. We were on our way home but only about thirty minutes from the hospital. We turned around. I called my mom. “I think we lost him.” She knew right away what I meant. I think I called one of my other sons right away.

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I don’t remember now. When we got to the hospital we were given directions to his room. We couldn’t find him. We had to ask again. That person could see, could tell that we were in shock and took us right to the nurses’ station in MICU. We were escorted into his room by someone. I know we saw doctors and nurses and social workers. All I could see was my child. Hooked up to machines that were breathing for him. They told us what they knew. He was brought in by paramedics. He was talking to them. Medical records indicate he was left alone for 4 minutes during which time he collapsed. Respiratory failure. Heart Failure. They tried. CPR. Intubation. I think it was already too late then. We notified family and friends. People came and went. We waited for the MRI results. Severe brain damage. No hope. Will never wake up. This isn’t supposed to happen. Parents are not supposed to have to make these decisions. Parents are not supposed to bury their children.

~Christian

I met Ryan while working at the Cheesecake Factory in San Francisco. And he was a light. He was a brilliant, beautiful light of laughter and positivity. I’m unsure of the circumstances surrounding his death, and, I haven’t spoke to him in years... but the world just lost a beautiful beacon of kindness and whole heartedness. I don’t pray often, but I will tonight, to Ryan Koch, to a gentle giant, to a friend, and memory of a certain special time of my life.. cheers, sis.

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